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barack obama rank now among our presidents? it's lincoln first, then washington, then f.d.r. and washington. where do presidential historians think barack obama may someday rank? dreams of glory. how does president obama look at adams, washington and jefferson? does he even look at the founders for inspiration? finally, second terms are o beset by problems, even scandals and crises often come during second terms. will the second term for barack obama bring him the chance for greatness? i'm chris matthews, welcome to the show. with us today, jon meacham, presidential historian and author of "thomas jefferson: the art of power," michael beschloss, presidential historian, annette gordon-reed, author of "the hemingses of monticello," and jodi kantor, "new york times" writer. as president obama looks to his special terms, historians look at his past with great decisions and great achievements. the president met with several
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historians during his first term to get their vials. in fact, jodi kantor has written about those sessions between the president and the historians. how does history judge most presidents? george washington and f.d.r. in the top three and lincoln is number one, and fourth, thomas jefferson. i'm so impressed that you got to write the book. what gives thomas jefferson, the author of the declaration of independence, the right to be up there with the top three? del there are three things. one, he doubled the size of the country with the louisiana purchase, seizing a moment that might have slipped away. napoleon rethought this real estate deal and jefferson moved more quickly, got it done. i think he ratified in his political career, in his presidency, the promise of the declaration and the spirit of the declaration by turning the country in a republican
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direction aftered federalism of washington and adams. he believed that the revolution of 1800 was as significant as the revolution of 1776. and i think his essential understanding of the politics of the personal relationship he left as a model of socialability, of retail politics, that really has endured. chris: michael beschloss, do you think he's there, from your reading and writing, do you think jefferson is in the top four because of what he did, like the louisiana purchase, or because he wrote the basic document which people like lincoln went back and rediscovered as the reason we're here together, equality? >> if jefferson were just some virginia politician that became president, i don't think he would be anywhere near number four, because you can't look at jefferson, as jon suggests, without knowing his huge role in the founding of this country. the other thing is that it causes us sometimes to overlook things that he did that were disasters, also as jon writes. at the end of his presidency he tried to fight the british with an economic embargo but wrecked
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half his country. chris: i think about african-americans thinking about when they go over to, say, mount vernon. when we were kids we thought it was kind of novel to see the slave quarters. buff i assume if you're african-american, you're thinking, wait a minute, that's where i was. you've written about the hemingses and we all know about the sexual relationship and the parental relationship between thomas jefferson and sally hemingses, who was his slave. what does that say about the person, an amoral man, how does it fit in? >> it fits in because slavery was a part of american history. one of the other presidents who was judged great was george washington and he was a slave holder as well. you can't take the bitter with the sweet. there are the accomplishments and the high points and low points. one of the things that's really interesting about jefferson is he embodies the best and the worst of america, and that's what makes him so fascinate together study. you can see all of it. chris: how did jefferson deal
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with the question of equality? i was watching a clip of the new movie, "lincoln," about where he says if things are both equal to something else, they're equal to each other. he's thinking through the logic of equality. >> he thought all men were created equal. certainly that's all the caveats that existed during his time period. not even all white men were created quafment he said blacks and whites were equal in his moral sense. one of his quotes is because isaac newton was smarter than everybody else didn't give him the right to be the master of anyone. chris: land-owning white people. and not women. >> not women. certainly i think he probably would have had a greater problem with women in equality than blacks. but certainly hierarchy arcal and some notion that the enlightenment would change things. chris: this is a larry king question -- did he love her? >> we don't know. we know this was a relationship that went on for almost 40 years. you can make a judgment about
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that. chris: let's ask an obvious question. you get the best question here. does president obama, as he goes into his second term, which seems to be the requirement for greatness, you have to get the second term. that's a notch on your belt. does he think a lot about his ranking in history, how he's going to do? >> all evidence says yes, and he's thought about it for a long time. circa 2006, 2007, he's just out of the illinois state senate. he's telling people, even though he doesn't have a lot of managerial, national security, economic, washington experience, he's telling people i not only want to be president, i want to be one the great transformative president. he takes the roosevelt name in vain. when he had these dinners with historians that michael attended, what was interesting is that he wasn't just talking about history for history's sake. they weren't idle exercises. he wanted to know what are the lessons of history that i can apply here and now in my administration? chris: it wasn't just working the jury, huh? because that's the suspicion many would have. >> or of any president who does this.
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he really wasn't. he wants to know essentially, are there parallels in history that can help me dealing with the problems that i'm dealing with now. chris: give me some examples, if you can, if it doesn't violate your meeting, where he seemed to ask advice. >> these were off the record, as you know. and the other thing -- as jodi has well reported, there was a great revelation, and i would give it only to you, chris, of course. these were driven more by the histors yans. people will comp with parallels and lessons from their own writing that can be applied to barack obama's presidency. so oddly enough he runs a great conversation, but is not going to tell you an enormous amount about his feelings about history. chris: what's it like to go into the white house? i worked there for a while with carter, i always thought the smell of the paints and the flowers, the rhododendron, there's something great about being in that place. you're being asked by a president, history about presidents. >> for better or worse. i think, you know, for someone who knows the history of the white house and everything that has taken place there in these
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rooms, sometimes it's hard to keep your mind focused on the conversation rather than, you know, something that happened 100 years ago. sort of the occupational hazard of historians. chris: you've written great book on jefferson, everybody is going to read it. but what can a president learn? i always ask what's the best chapter for me to read? what's the chapter you'd say, mr. president, read this one, if you read nothing else, in my book? >> 36 or 37, because it's about how to use the white house in the way michael's talking about to advance your agenda. the power of a president's company, the power of his charm, even when they are particularly charming, cannot be overstated. one of the things i think the president has had a difficult time in the first term with is reaching out not only across the aisle, but within his caucus. the democratic senators haven't spent a lot of time with him. chris: that's a knock. >> what thomas jefferson did every night congress was in session, he had lawmakers down to dinner and anybody could sit
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where they wanted. it was pell mel they called it, and he just talked, and they talked. chris: i love that. they didn't play card. they didn't doing so that kept together, like cards or golf. >> he didn't want republicans and federalists there, because they might fight. he wanted all republicans or all federalists to weave those attachments to him, and that conception -- chris: i'd love to hear you say that to him. do this, if you want to be like jefferson, because that's the knock i hear, that he doesn't have those natural ra ports with people that he's asking to do favors for him. >> the historians did say that to him. that was very much the advice they gave at the dinner. they say it all the time publicly. she wants to see him use the white house has a pulpit. the historians cautioned him that he needed to think not only long term, but about his day-to-day relationship with the american people, was he really connected, was he really
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communicating, do they understand him. so it's interesting that jon drew the same conclusion as this other body of historians. chris: he has a wonderful way of talking about the marketing conceptionalism but the sense this has a unique history of opportunity in this country where your grandfather doesn't matter as much as it does in germany or britain or even africa. >> even to be together there's always a multi-racial society from the very beginning. that's unique to america. we have a head start. >> it was jefferson who said, "we're the world's best hope." chris: jon meacham writes and said he had a revalerie with adams. jefferson was the charming one, adams was the more intense, less charming one. on the miniseries on adams, you see this scene towards the end, as adams views a great painting, now iconic in history. let's look.
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>> all dead. >> sir? >> all dead. the whole lot of them. except for me and jefferson. chris: one of the merp history, coincidence, john adams and thomas jefferson died on the same day. not just any day. they died within a few hours of each other on july 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of independence. that same hbo series ends this way -- >> it's the fort. >> yes, sir. -- it's the fourth. >> yes, sir. >> what's the others? >> it's july the 4th.
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it was 50 years ago today our >> it's july the 4th. it was 50 years ago today our nation was born. >> thomas jefferson. chris: history record the fact that jefferson had died before john adams. pretty close there. when we come back, what advice could president obama felony from other presidents that he -- glean from other presidents that he might not know to ask? what will be the biggest problem he might not know to ask? what will be the biggest problem in
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chris: welcome back. in his first inaugural address president obama invoked the founding fathers. >> our founding fathers were failsed with perils that we are sayersly imagine for the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. those ideals still light the world. chris: does he have abinterest -- in "the new york times" piece that you wrote, you suggest or actually report he doesn't really have the profound interest in the earliest part of our history. >> the interest we see is more contemporary. now, he's a constitutional law professor, so we have to have some interest in the founding fathers, but the country has changed so vastly and his favorite president is lincoln, who's kinds of the hinge to the more modern era that he's more interested in. chris: he likes to hold them
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accountable. >> that's how his current history obsession started. when he was in the senate, he had just gotten to the senate. he had read team rivals, wanted to have a private meeting with doris. sits down with her, they talk about the book in detail and he talks about his desire to be like lincoln. he said he was draung to lincoln obviously, the writer quality being from illinois, etc., et cetera, but he said -- he talked about wanting to be president that early and he said, i really want to leave something powerful behind. chris: do you think that's how he came upon the notion of appointing hillary rodham clinton? >> it has turned out to make such good political sense that you can imagine any number of rationales. but it was clear that he read every page of that book. that was not the washington read, right? that was not -- chris: i'm talking about practical tee here and the use of historians by presidents. you talk about a constitutional lawyer. talk about the fact of looking at history perhaps more recently
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for the founding fathers and how it applies to his philosophical view as an attorney, as a lawyer. >> he starts off talking about the charter, meaning the constitution and that it is forged in the blood of people actually after the civil war. in the new constitution that comes to event is one that tries to bring all people into the american family and also sets the stage for economic regulation, different types of government, different types of relationship between government and business and citizens. so he sees all of this as an outgrowth of all of it, so it makes sense that he is part of this modern state. chris: 149th amendment is all-encompassing. everybody born in the united states has a right to life, liberty and cannot be denied it. it's such an instrument for everything. >> absolutely. this is the modern age of which he sees himself a part. chris: you wrote about jefferson. can you convince the president that there is something he missed back in those founding days? >> i think the politics, the retail politics of pure republicanism, of bringing people together. jefferson believed if we didn't
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like each other or know each other and care about each other, we would never sacrifice for each other. that's true politicalcally and in the country at large. so these connections aren't just stylistic. they're stylistic with substantive implications. what jefferson started with the phrase "all men are created equal," lincoln picked it up and said very few men -- no one had ever had the coolness forecasting capacity to introduce that abstract context and obama is the fulfillment of that promise. chris: it was lincoln who says four score and seven years ago. he took us back to the founding document. your thoughts on when he looks out the window and sees the jefferson memorial. what should he see there? >> i think what he sees is that lincoln actually, at the beginning of his presidency, was a big george washington fan. found as he was dealing with slavery and moving more in the direction of abolition he found thomas jefferson a lot more jermaine. so i think obama relates to that. the other thing is that, you know, that great relationship
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between adams and jefferson, they almost detested each other at one point. but the important thing to know is that they came together at the end. they had this wonderful correspondence. and barack obama, who's dealing with this polarized congress, a country that's fractured in all sorts of ways, that gives you a little bit of a sense of what the founders were able to do in that generation. they felt bound in a way that our political leaders don't. chris: these top historians will predict toby's
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chris: welcome back to this special show with four presidential experts who want to ask them to make a single prediction about the president's second term. president barack obama himself noted recently that second terms can be difficult. >> i'm more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach and second terms. we are very cautious about that. chris: jon, what do you think his biggest problem will be? >> can he make this caucus -- ratify the election results and actually stay in some sense where he can get a deal. mark twain said that tom sawyer pointed out, a preacher came to town who was so good that huck finn stayed saved until tuesday. chris: hold his party together. >> and get enough republican votes. >> the unpredictable things he hasn't planned for. chris: the black swan. >> i totally agree with annette. if you had told me in 2008 that the whoufs would have been consumed with worry in the first
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term over whether greek pensioners would accept austerity measures in europe, i wouldn't have thought that. it's these promises that determine the course. chris: hubris? >> he said it in his press conference, overreach. every president since roosevelt has had this horrible second term. for someone who wants to be a transforming president, that may be a problem. chris: keep the supreme court at nine. when we come back, the big question of the week -- americans look for new frontiers, always have. americans look for new frontiers, always have. will future
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secondhand smoke affects everyone's health. it's not just irritating. it can cause heart disease and even death. speak up about secondhand smoke. your health and the health of your family depend on it. chris: welcome back. president kennedy was the most recent president to find a new frontier, which i wrote about. this week's big question for the great historians as they look ahead -- will american presidents find and need new
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frontiers? are they going to look for something big out there that they have to push up against? jon? >> i think it's energy independence because it changes our national security posture in fundamental ways, would re-orient the world and give us a way of standing by ourselves, without having to be constantly drawn into regions of the world that have not been hospitable to us. chris: annette? >> i think health care is still part of that. we haven't totally settled the relationship, and that is a question that was posed in this election and will continue. chris: this is amazing. had the election gone the other way by 4% or so, hr-1 would be elimination of health care. unbelievable. >> i think the presidency is with science and engineering. even despite the current budget deficiencies, he would like to pour more money into american innovation. chris: that's what we do. >> right. >> as your fine book says, kennedy spent only $15 million in 1960, not that much by current standards.
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this year romney and obama spent $1 billion each. find some way to change the system so that you can run for president without being able to raise that kind of money. chris: let me ask you a question about history. i do like to read biography, like a lot of people do. can you be a great american leader without understanding jefferson and what he did and started, with all the inspiration he had going into the declaration? >> i don't think so. one of the reasons president obama might have an interest in jefferson is here's a highly cerebral writer who is a practicing mattist, who had to govern with all the forces crowding in on him. if you were a president looking back, if you can see how your predecessors, who are also human beings, overcame seemingly super obstacles, that would give you hope. >> in monticello you have a bed. you go into one room on one side of the bed and the other side of the bed is another room. you can decide which kind of day you want i'm amazing there's two different rooms to go into out of your bed.
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thanks on our round table. can't can't and michael beschloss, jon meacham, that's the show. we'll see you here next week. cred cred cred crd [ laughter ] [ girl ] wow, you guys have it easy. i wish i had u-verse when i was your age. in my day, we didn't have these fancy wireless receivers. blah blah blah. if i had a sleepover, i couldn't just move the tv into the playroom. no. we had to watch movies in the den because that's where the tv outlet was. and if dad was snoring on the couch, we muscled through it. is she for real? your generation has it made. [ male announcer ] the wireless receiver only from at&t u-verse. get a free wireless receiver with a qualifying u-verse plan. rethink possible.
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hi, everybody. welcome to the "wall street journal report." i'm maria bartiromo. the turkey's been eaten, the table's been cleared. now it's time to shop. finding the best bargains and hot sellers. will

The Chris Matthews Show
NBC November 26, 2012 12:00am-12:30am PST

News/Business. (2012) A panel discusses what makes great presidents and President Obama's study of his greatest predecessors. New. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Washington 9, Thomas Jefferson 7, Obama 4, Jefferson 4, Jon Meacham 3, Michael Beschloss 3, Louisiana 2, Illinois 2, New Frontiers 2, John Adams 2, Lincoln 2, Adams 2, Monticello 2, Annette 2, Jodi Kantor 2, New York 1, Etc. 1, Africa 1, At&t U-verse 1, Obama Look 1
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on 11/26/2012